This is a guest post by the lovely Eva (staring at fifty shades of blue on her new favourite island) who works with me at Fleewinter (a boutique London tour operator that offers Asia holidays). She has written this review about her recent visit to Koh Lipe… well worth a read!
Some of you may have heard of Thailand‘s most southern island, called Koh Lipe, which they refer to as the Thai Maldives. I have been longing to go there for quite a while, but the fact that it isn’t the most accessible island made me hesitate. However, after having spent three nights on this gorgeous island, I am even hoping that access won’t get easier in the future, since this truly is a place you don’t want to tell anyone about to prevent it from becoming too touristy.
How to get there
Koh Lipe is best accessed via Langkawi, due to its proximity to Malaysia. There is a direct ferry connecting both islands and countries in 90 minutes. However, this is only the case during the high season (October to April). Since we went there in August, we had to fly into Hat Yai (Thailand’s most southern airport) where we spent a night. The next morning we took a car to Pak Bara (2-3 hours drive), the coastal town from where one can catch speed boats to Koh Lipe (1 – 1.5 hours). The speed boat ride to the island was the bumpiest boat ride I have ever been on in my life. It was honestly not fun, but we were told that it is not as rough during the high season and that the way back was going to be much better (which indeed was the case).
Once on the island, we quickly recovered from our boat shock because we almost couldn’t believe the colours surrounding us.
The island doesn’t have a jetty, just some rustic floating walk ways out onto the water. There is also no road when you arrive, so make sure you travel lightly when you arrive, otherwise you will have to drag your suitcases through the sand (which we did – thanks to the “taxi” driver who helped us). But it is so worth it!
Where to stay
As here at Fleewinter, we have a thing with quirky boutique hotels, I spent quite a while to check out accommodation options on Koh Lipe. As a matter of fact, there are pretty much no luxurious hotels on the island (but let’s hope the Marriott’s and Shangri La’s of this world will stay away for a lot longer). We ended up spending two nights at the Castaway Resort, which was an ideal choice for us: Beachfront, amazing food, ideal location on Sunrise beach, Yoga lessons… and views like this right in front of our window (I kid you not):
When the owners of Castaway started thinking about building a resort, they wanted it to be eco-friendly, and to blend in with the environment. The hotel’s design has been influenced by traditional Thai building methods. All buildings are made of natural hard woods built on posts buried in the ground eliminating the need for concrete foundations. The roofs are made from local thatch. The combination of natural materials keeps the bungalows cool as they don’t retain the heat.
All rooms have hammocks where guests can relax in, beach towels are available at reception, and WiFi is available in the reception and restaurant area. The hotel, however, doesn’t have a pool, and the rooms don’t have air-con, TV, hot water nor fridges. If you cannot live without Instagram (which would be fair enough because you are for once surrounded by these instagram worthy backdrops), it may not be the right choice for you (or you get a Thai sim card).
What we actually loved most about the Castaway was the restaurant area which is so inviting to just chill and relax, to meet other people and to watch the sunrise, and the fact that we could see little Nemo fish swimming around their anemones pretty much from the beach, the underwater world is this amazing.
Castaway offers attractive rates. Room rates start from GBP30 per night, so really affordable, also for families.
We spent one night at the Bundhaya Villas Resort, at the other end of the island – the Pattaya Beach. Even though the beach was even more beautiful here, I liked the vibe on Sunrise Beach a bit better.
There were also less boats anchored at Pattaya Beach. While I thought the boats weren’t great for swimming, my friend Anna thought they were absolutely fantastic as this was so authentically Thai. And, the owner of one hotel told me that they cannot have them anywhere else since the island is so small, and every hotel or house needs a boat in order to get supplies to the island (fair enough).
Anyway, if you want to experience both sides of the island, why not book two different hotels, and see for yourself (I’d love to hear your feedback). If you want to stay at Pattaya Beach, I’d recommend the Bundhaya Villa, located right at a fantastic white beach, at the end of the bay. Rates start from GBP 60 per room per night. With its large pool, it is especially fantastic for families with children.
If you want to splurge on your holiday, choose the Serendipity Hotel on Sunrise Beach. It has a spectacular location, built on rocks, and even its own pristine beach, due to its location in between rocks. The resort is built on a terrain which rises up from the beach to a maximum elevation of 55 metres above sea level (hello awesome views).
It was designed to blend in with the landscape as opposed to sit on it. The bungalows are accessed by wooden walkways and steps that branch off to individual bungalows. Due to their positioning, all rooms offer great views and give a maximum of privacy to the guests. There are four categories of bungalows. They are all of the same design and layout apart from the two pool villas. The only differences are positioning on the land and whether there is plunge pool or not. Room rates start from GBP 250 per night per room.
What to do
You might have already guessed that snorkelling and diving are fantastic around Koh Lipe. Coral reefs are easy to reach as they start just a few metres away from each of the main island’s beaches. There are lots of possibilities to rent a boat taking you around the island and to the best spots as well.
Sea kayaking and stand up paddling is quite popular as well. There are two stunning uninhabited islands just a short paddle from the sands of Sunrise Beach.
Those who enjoy hiking can rent a boat to Koh Adang and walk to this neighbouring island’s view points.
I am a bit of a hippie at heart, and so I instantly fell in love with the bar Sea View on Sunrise Beach, which is every daydreamer’s wonderland. You will find inspirational quotes, oversized dream catchers, a fire show, a table in a little tree house where you can sip your cocktails and smiling faces.
Other than that, you can do all the things that Thailand does oh so well: Eating great food, getting a massage or a pedicure, visit the night market etc.
One point I’d like to add is referring to the island’s pollution. We were quite shocked about the amount of rubbish lying around the island. However, there is not a lot the island’s inhabitants can do, since the rubbish is coming from the ocean. There is a great initiative called Trash Heroes, meeting every Monday to collect rubbish, and everyone is invited to join the group. Something you might be interested to participate in.
If you feel like escaping the coming autumn days now, please get in touch at email@example.com. I’d be happy to arrange a trip to Koh Lipe for you. Go in the high season and you can combine Koh Lipe with a visit to Langkawi in Malaysia, another stunning place that should be on your list of places to see before you die. But Marbree, our Malaysia Specialist, will talk more about this gem in the posts to come.